Smooth Operator

September 29, 2011

Text by Stacy Kunstel    Photography by Michael Partenio

Dalia Tamari had lain down for a nap when she found herself gazing up at her bedroom ceiling. As she pondered the white-pebbled surface she’d lived with since moving into the seventh-floor Brookline, Massachusetts, penthouse with her family, she started tracing the track of the air-conditioning vents with her eyes. The longer she mapped the vents, the more convinced she became that she could reroute them to get more ceiling height and replace the popcorn texture she’d despised for the past fourteen years.

There was one way to find out, so Tamari hurried to find a broom. Easily enough she poked the broomstick through the ceiling to discover she could add at least a foot of headroom above the bed. A second jab also hit nothing. Again and again she poked holes throughout the apartment, down the halls and into the living room, a cloud of plaster dust following her. She determined the route of the air-conditioning vents and left a ceiling of Swiss cheese in her wake. “I thought, if I can open the ceiling I can move the walls,” says Tamari, the design force behind Dalia Kitchen Design in the Boston Design Center.

To spare him a shock when he got home, Tamari called her husband at work to inform him of her destructive afternoon. “I called Gadi and told him—all excited—about my findings,” recalls Tamari. “By the time he got home he was calm. He knows that when it comes to design, sometimes my logic is not quite predictable.”

Her methods might have been unconventional, but Gadi could hardly argue with the result. Besides the ceiling, not a single interior wall escaped unscathed as Tamari remade the apartment. She reconfigured soffits and beams, brought in new molding to redefine rooms, installed new paneling, redesigned the kitchen and added new furnishings to turn the modest apartment into a showplace of design.

By removing a bedroom (the last of the couple’s three children were now gone), Tamari and Gadi were able to add space not only to their family room and bedroom, but also to the kitchen, dining room and living room. “That is when we made an apartment for a couple,” says Tamari.

The sophisticated new living room has a wall of black paneling that cleverly disguises two elevator doors and a coat closet. “I didn’t want to see doors,” says Tamari. “I just wanted you to feel like you were in the apartment.” The other walls wear simple taupe paint, with a tuxedo stripe of black molding near the top to define the areas where the ceiling was raised.

The award-winning kitchen designer, whose work carries her between the East Coast and Israel, where she grew up, filled the living room with matching sofas by Fendi, Biedermeier-esque chairs and elongated custom coffee tables. Artwork given as a gift from her two daughters hangs above the fireplace; elsewhere she displays paintings that once hung in her parents’ house in Italy.

Tamari had stared down just about every design challenge, but the kitchen designer faced a number of complications in bringing together her own cooking area. Given the apartment’s size—and her insistence on full-size appliances—space was at a premium. “The kitchen is very shallow,” says Tamari. “In some parts it is like a façade.” On one wall cabinets are only nine inches deep. She met the challenges with her usual creativity, devising such unconventional solutions as installing the oven at an angle to suit the space.

The Mark Wilkinson–designed cabinetry was made in England and hand-painted to look like furniture. “It’s low-key, nothing shiny,” says Tamari. “It will stay looking good for a really long time.”

Down the hall from the kitchen sits a marble statue against a shuttered window, perfectly framed by the master bedroom’s doorway. The bedroom is a quiet sanctuary with its upholstered walls and headboard, which temper the light that floods the public spaces and soften any building sounds.

It’s the most recent phase of Tamari’s renovation that has taken the most time to complete. She had long dreamed of changing the mahogany deck that surrounded her top-floor abode. “I held back until I knew what I wanted,” she says. Even then, the process took much longer than she had anticipated. Over a seven-year period she submitted various plans that the building’s management wouldn’t ¬accept. Finally she hit on a scheme that everyone agreed on, and she was able to build the 2,000-square-foot deck area outside her door.

Connected to the living room via a sliding door, the wide, open deck boasts a full view of the Boston skyline, a lounge area and a dining area for family dinners or entertaining. The Tamaris like to invite friends to enjoy summer evenings on the deck. “It’s an escape in the city,” Dalia says.

While Tamari conceived the design, Winston Flowers coordinated and installed the plantings that define the deck’s perimeter, incorporating boxwood, grasses, lilies and other blooming flowers. “We needed to have plants that could withstand the wind,” says Tamari.

For the lounge area she found tables online and through Restoration Hardware and bought three Bubble Club sofas from Design Within Reach. “I didn’t go crazy with expensive stuff,” she says.

The large deck isn’t their only outdoor space; on the opposite side of the apartment, bedroom doors open to a smaller, private deck with two lounge chairs ideal for the sunbathing and book reading that Gadi favors.

The new decks more than doubles the size of the apartment, giving the couple extra space to enjoy when the weather’s right, whether it’s taking in the city lights on a warm summer night or a glorious view of changing leaves on an autumn afternoon. Inside, too, the view couldn’t be nicer. Looking around their sophisticated rooms (or up at the high, smooth ceiling), the Tamaris find that their new environment suits them perfectly.

Interior design: Dalia Tamari, Dalia Kitchen Design
Builder: Paul Dudley

Find A Resource

Search from hundreds of home services, products, destinations, and real estate opportunities.

View All Resources